Brakes pay the penalty for sorry first half
The post-match chat was dominated by the performance of referee Amy Fearn but Leamington had no one but themselves to blame for a sorry home defeat to Curzon on Saturday, writes Paul Okey.
Fearn angered home fans as early as the fourth minute, pointing to the spot after Jamie Hood had sent Ryan Brooke tumbling to the ground and continued to attract the ire of Brakes players and fans alike as the match went on with a string of questionable decisions.
However, she was not responsible for an insipid first-half display from the home side which failed to yield a shot until the 32nd minute.
Nor was she the reason Brakes failed to breach Curzon in the second half, with the visitors’ back-up keeper Ben Purdham still relatively untroubled despite a marked improvement from Leamington.
With Joe Clarke unavailable due to work commitments and Ahmed Obeng out with a hamstring strain, Paul Holleran brought Joe Magunda in to stiffen the Brakes midfield, with Jamie Hood returning to the line-up at the expense of Jack Lane and Connor Gudger making his first league start since breaking his jaw against FC United.
Curzon came into the game with just one win to show from their last seven National League North matches but quickly set the tempo, with some neat passing matched by clever game management.
With the game just four minutes old, they worked the ball into the box and Hood was adjudged to have illegally worked Brooke off the ball.
Once the protests had died down, with Hood particularly incensed, Adam Morgan confidently put away the spot-kick.
Brakes had a strong wind behind them but struggled to adapt, with the constant whistle of Fearn further fragmenting a half which would have done little to persuade any newcomers in a Non-League Day crowd of 705 to make a return visit.
Connor Hughes and Adam Morgan both sent ambitious efforts over the bar for the visitors, with Callum Gittings producing Brakes’ first effort on goal just past the half-hour mark, Purdham gathering easily.
Breeden needed to be at his best to shovel an Oliver Crankshaw effort around the post and a half which had failed to ignite was thankfully put out if its misery after a cursory minute of added time.
Leamington began the second 45 minutes with an intensity which had been lacking in the opening half and Gittings and Matty Stenson both lashed first-time efforts off target.
Gudger then beat two men on the left flank and battled to regain possession before laying the ball off for Jack Edwards who could only shoot tamely at Purdham from the edge of the box.
Morgan drew a sprawling save from Breeden in a rare Curzon threat but it was the home side, now freshened up by the introduction of Reece Flanagan and Connor Taylor, who remained in the ascendancy.
Kieran Dunbar looked to have set Stenson free but the striker was denied by a superb block from Daniel Shaw. An Edwards snapshot then passed just by a post.
Shaw went into the book for a professional handball which prevented a two-on-one break and Brakes almost exacted the prefect retribution from the resulting free-kick, with Edwards’ header needing a superb clearance from under the bar from Cameron McJannett as Hood looked to shepherd it over the line.
Joe Guest shot straight at Breeden as the visitors got a foothold in the game and Curzon were then left scratching their heads after somehow wasting a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0.
Guest battled his way through the middle only to see his shot blocked by James Mace and when the ball was returned across the six-yard box there were three Curzon players free. It went behind one, another miscontrolled it and the third, Crankshaw, was denied by a desperate save from Breeden when a second goal looked a certainty.
With space available to break as Brakes committed more men forward, Morgan was inches away from putting the game to bed, only to drag his shot across Breeden and past the far post.
Stenson went down in the box only for the decision to go against him, mirroring one given against substitute Anthony Dwyer minutes earlier.
And, as the feelings of injustice continued to build in the home ranks, James Bowen was booked for pushing over Morgan, who was keen to demonstrate his full range of time-wasting skills.
Six minutes of injury time failed to produce any further opportunities for Brakes as Curzon doggedly hung on to their slender advantage and as the boos rang out at Fearn at the final whistle, those halcyon days of August seemed a distant memory.
The temperature may have been balmy but the performance drew a frosty response from Holleran who has now seen his team pick up just three points from a possible 15.
“I think after the start we made to the season one or two of us have got a little bit complacent and expected things to just happen for us,” he said.
“In a first-half performance here when conditions are so difficult and we’re second best everywhere; we’re outfought, we’re outplayed, that’s a real worry for me.”
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Junior English, Connor Gudger (Reece Flanagan, 60), Joe Magunda (Connor Taylor, 60), Jamie Hood, James Mace, Kieran Dunbar (Anthony Dwyer, 73), Callum Gittings, Matt Stenson, Jack Edwards, James Bowen. Subs not used: Jack Lane, Colby Bishop.
Curzon Ashton: Ben Purdham, James Baillie, Cameron McJannett, Jonathan Hunt, Daniel Shaw, Chris Rowney, Joe Guest, Oliver Crankshaw, Ryan Brooke (Niall Cummins, 82), Adam Morgan (Mason Fawns, 90), Connor Hughes (Mohamud Ali, 71). Subs not used: Jack O’Leary, Louis Khoury.